Author: Tarannum Rehal
A couple weeks ago, the National Health Service announced that gay and bisexual men in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Wales) can now donate blood, plasma, and platelets under certain circumstances (Diaz, 2021).
Gay and bisexual men that are sexually active and have been in monogamous relationships for at least the last 3 months are eligible for the first time to donate blood, plasma, and platelets. The ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men was in practicing policy due to the perceived belief that such populations are at greater risk of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. With the introduction of the new policy, regardless of gender and sexuality, anyone who has engaged in anal sex with a new partner or multiple people, especially with someone who has recent used medications to prevent HIV infection must wait 3 months in order to donate (Diaz, 2021).
Aside from the obvious reason of discrimination against the gay and bisexual communities, the prime motivating factor for removing the ban on donor eligibility comes from the pandemic-induced urgent requirement of blood supply and donations. The NHS is aiming for a more gender-neutral approach when determining donor eligibility in order to tackle the setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon the implementation of the more expansive donor eligibility, researchers will continue to observe and analyze the impacts of donor selection for the coming 12 months to determine if further changes are necessary.
The United States and Canada, in contrast, still restrict gay and bisexual men from being eligible blood, plasma, and platelet donors despite efforts by various advocates that have said that these restrictions are discriminatory to the LGBTQ+ community (Diaz, 2021; Previl, 2021). Many countries have implemented a ban on donations by gay and bisexual men since the HIV/AIDS epidemic started in the 1980s. It has since been a widespread misconception that HIV/AIDS is a “gay disease” and only happens to men that have sex with other men.
By the end of 2021, the Canadian Blood Services intend to submit a request to Health Canada to make amendments in its current blood donor eligibility policy from men who have sex with other men to a sexual-behaviors scanning assessment for all donors regardless of sex and gender (Previl, 2021). As more education on LGBTQ+ sexual behaviors is being spread and acknowledged (as it is not drastically different from heterosexual sexual behaviors), more advocates for ending the ban on donor eligibility agree that the current policy is outdated, stigmatizing, and discriminatory (Previl, 2021).
As COVID-19 has disproportionately affected minority communities such as people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people of lower socioeconomic status, and individuals who are immunocompromised, medical supplies including oxygen generators, ventilators, vaccines, and blood are of utmost need. While the majority of developed countries such as Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand are vaccinating their populations at an effective rate, developing countries, on the other hand, are struggling to not only vaccinate their populations but even get adequate vaccine doses in the first place. Therefore, bans on donor eligibility based on stigmatized beliefs only hinder the process of speed and quality in which patients receive medical care.
It is important to understand that HIV/AIDS is not a “gay disease” and is thus not only transmitted among men. If you are sexually active, regardless of the gender of your partner or the kind of sexual behaviors you are engaging in, get an STI test before and after engaging with a new person(s), and encourage them to do so as well. Also, if you are healthy and eligible to donate blood where you live, especially amid this pandemic when supplies are low, donate to your local blood service clinic.